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Demonstrating a Natural Origin of Chloroform in Groundwater Using Stable Carbon Isotopes

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2012
Author Hunkeler Daniel, Laier Troels, Breider Florian, Jacobsen Ole Stig,
Project Demonstrating a natural origin of chloroform in groundwater using stable isotope analysis
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Volume (Issue) 46(11)
Page(s) 6096 - 6101
DOI 10.1021/es204585d


Chloroform has been for a long time considered only as an anthropogenic contaminant. The presence of chloroform in forest soil and groundwater has been widely demonstrated. The frequent detection of chloroform in groundwater in absence of other contaminants suggests that chloroform is likely produced naturally. Compound-specific isotope analysis of chloroform was performed on soil-gas and groundwater samples to elucidate whether its source is natural or anthropogenic. The delta C-13 values of chloroform (-22.8 to -26.2 ‰) present in soil gas collected in a forested area are within the same range as the soil organic matter (-22.6 to 28.2 ‰) but are more enriched in C-13 compared to industrial chloroform (-43.2 to -63.6 ‰). The delta C-13 values of chloroform at the water table (-22.0 ‰) corresponded well to the delta C-13 of soil gas chloroform, demonstrating that the isotope signature of chloroform is maintained during transport through the unsaturated zone. Generally, the isotope signature of chloroform is conserved also during longer range transport in the aquifer. These delta C-13 data support the hypothesis that chloroform is naturally formed in some forest soils. These results may be particularly relevant for authorities' regulation of chloroform which in the case of Denmark was very strict for groundwater (<1 ug/L).